Streetwise Professor

February 24, 2014

Don’t Be Complacent: Putin Has Not Yet Begun to Fight

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 12:44 pm

Although some have expressed relief that Russian tanks have yet to roll into Ukraine, and taken note of the absence of a Putin rant, and from this concluded that Russia will respond to the events in the country in a patient, benign and constructive way, such a judgment is wildly premature.

The only certainty in the situation currently prevailing in Ukraine is wild uncertainty.  And as real options theory teaches, typically the best alternative in such a situation is to wait and see how things develop.  Putin may not think explicitly in such terms, but he is a savvy enough customer to understand that fools rush in where angels fear to tread.  So I think he is biding his time.

He also realizes that it is best for the supreme leader to remain silent in such circumstances, so as to not commit himself prematurely, and to permit him to keep his future options open.

But his placemen and proxies are shrieking apocalyptic descriptions of the situation in Ukraine, thereby laying the predicate for future Russian intervention of some form. Lavrov has vented to Kerry and European foreign ministers.  The Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement roundly condemning in harsh terms the new government in Ukraine and the process by which it took power.  Medvedev also sharply criticized the process and outcome by which the opposition seized power.  Medvedev also warns that the opposition has threatened Russians and Russian interests.  Medvedev and the FM blame the West for meddling and taking a hand in overthrowing the legitimate government of Ukraine.

There are several themes here.  Most notably, that the opposition reneged on a duly authorized agreement with Yanukovych, and hence their seizure of power is illegitimate and the government is illegitimate.  Moreover, the Russian government officials routinely portray the opposition as balaclava wearing (there’s irony for you!), Kalashnikov brandishing (more irony!) thugs and terrorists and pogromists and tools of the West.

This is all right out of the standard Russian playbook for establishing the justification for armed intervention.  Just look at Chechnya (both in 1994 and 1999) and South Ossetia and Abkhazia.  They checked all the same boxes then.

I am not saying that the tanks will inevitably roll.  But Russia is building the case to justify it.  This is also useful in justifying other actions short of war, including particularly economic pressure (embargoes on Ukrainian goods from the entire Eurasian Union, cutoffs of gas and oil).

Yanukovych’s whereabouts are unknown.  (As I tweeted Friday: “Where in the world is Victor Yanukovych?”)  Current rumor has him in Russian hands.

Putin no doubts despises Yanuk, not least for blowing the management of the situation in Ukraine (though Putin himself is almost surely primarily culpable-but that can’t be admitted, can it?).  But he is the elected President of Ukraine, and the Russians will say that he is the only legitimate authority in the country.  If they do roll in, Yanukovych will be in their baggage train.  Yes, in the event he will be discarded like last week’s leftover fish after he serves his purpose.  But right now he is the Russian’s main claim to legitimacy in Ukraine, and they have every interest of keeping him from the hands of the current government, which has indicted him for mass murder.

Things are still extremely fluid.  The Maidan has accomplished the easy part.  Now the real work begins, and given the debilitating legacy of the Soviet experience, the country’s pervasive corruption, and its lack of any credible institutions, the prospects for a easy transition are bleak indeed.  Especially given that this transition will have to take place under substantial Russia pressure of one form or another.

The most pressing difficulty is economic.  The country’s debt is crushing, and reserves are short.  The US, EU, and IMF have pledged assistance, and their words need to be turned into deeds-and ducats.

One interesting angle here is that Russian banks have a substantial exposure to Ukrainian debt, public and private.  That represents a substantial source of leverage of Ukraine and the west, and a very real potential flashpoint in conflict between the new government and Russia.

If there is an online equivalent of writing blog posts in pencil, this is the time to use it.  Things are very volatile, and could change quickly.  It is precisely this volatility that makes it dangerous indeed to take a lack of Russian action as a sign of Putin’s acquiescence to defeat.  As I said the other day, what has just transpired is the end of the beginning.  And to mix military aphorisms, Vladimir Putin has not yet begun to fight.


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  1. Russians were forced out of Chechnya in 1990-1994. Many were outright murdered. But who gives a shit about those white niggers, right?

    Chechnya INVADED Russia in 1999.

    LOL at Putain doing anything. Ukraine is bankrupt. Yet the first thing that the Maidanites did when they seized the Rada was to abolish the Russian language in Eastern regions. These areas are as Ukrainian as Tyrol is Italian. What does Putain do? Promise more money.

    Comment by So? — February 24, 2014 @ 2:13 pm

  2. > But who gives a shit about those white niggers, right?

    Not the mass murderers from the Kremlin, that’s for sure:

    And what did they say happened to the Kursk? Ah, yes, it sank.

    Comment by Ivan — February 24, 2014 @ 2:53 pm

  3. @So

    Oh, geez, will the Kremlinoid dezinform – distortion, deception, disinformation – never end?

    No, the Maidanites did not “seize the Rada.” Rather, a whole bunch of Bolshevik Regionnaires fled the country, in their jets, complete with strong boxes and women in furs. A whole bunch of Bolshevik Regionnaires resigned from the Party of Regions, leaving that party with only 130 seats in parliament.

    A new coalition was formed, and with well over 300 votes, as required by the constitution, parliament voted to go back to the 2004 constitution.

    A new speaker was — elected —– and in accordance with the constitution, in the absence of a president, the powers and obligations of the president were bestowed on the speaker.

    The Rada – the parliament – did not “eliminate” the Russian language in Eastern regions. There was, however, a vote to cancel the status of the Russian language as the paramount government language in Ukraine, logically enough. People are still free to speak whatever language they want.

    Putler has not promised more money – in fact, he has withheld any additional money from Ukraine, in a “wait and see” approach.”

    The Rasha is ruled by the Sopranos, and is a mafia regime even worse than what Ukraine was. And it is headed by a little macho dupe who takes off his shirt and kissed little boys on the belly.

    Putler and his mafia are simply terrified of losing their mafioso regime, as has happened in Ukraine.

    Comment by elmer — February 24, 2014 @ 4:16 pm

  4. SWP, these are interesting times, ain’t they? Next stop, Venezuela. Thanks for your thoughts on all this. This past week, I’ve been making points in my head about what’s going on and then read them right here. You’re a genius. 🙂

    Anyway, the legitimacy issue is a genuine one. If even Putin has a legitimacy issue, so does the new Ukrainian government. It looks like they basically impeached Yanukovych, but without a trial. I don’t know what international law says on these matters, but I worry about how they’ll be able to wiggle out of it. I hope it doesn’t bite them in the ass. They have enough trouble as it is. And yes, for god’s sake, no Yulia. That would be the worst thing yet.

    Regardless, I’d love to be a fly on the wall in Yanukovych’s meetings right now, let alone Putin’s.

    Comment by Howard Roark — February 24, 2014 @ 8:01 pm

  5. @Howard. Great minds. Great minds 🙂

    Yes, what the Rada did is of dubious legality. That is the nature of revolutions. There is always ambiguity. Always shortcuts. Expediency rules. Putin will make the most of these legally dubious actions.

    But in the end, in revolutions it comes down to power, the correlation of forces, the realities on the ground. Not the lawyers. If the law worked, there would be no need for revolution.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — February 24, 2014 @ 8:27 pm

  6. @Howard

    Yanukonvikt bailed out of his palace, Mezhihirya, over a 2 day period. It was caught on tape, with all sorts of trucks and cars loaded up with all sorts of things. He bailed. Disappeared. Abandoned his post. Nowhere to be found.

    So how is the legitimacy issue a genuine one?

    Impeachment is the first step. Trial is the second step. Conviction is the third step. He was impeached for the mass killings of civilians by snipers.

    How is the legitimacy issue a genuine one, except in the minds of mafia lunkheads like Vlad Dracul Putler, who is trying to preserve and protect his own mafia regime?

    In Ukraine, they’re looking for Yanukonvikt.

    There was a new coalition formed in the Parliament, after massive resignations by members of the Party of Regions, and after massive fleeing by members of the Party of Regions.

    How is the legitimacy issue a genuine issue, except in the minds of Kremlinoids who practice dezinformatsia, who distort reality, and stand logic on its head?

    Comment by elmer — February 24, 2014 @ 8:28 pm

  7. geez, et tu, SWP, as to legitimacy?

    Please explain the specifics, because noone except the Putler in the Rasha is having problems with legitimacy.

    Comment by elmer — February 24, 2014 @ 8:55 pm

  8. This is what the Kremlinoid basis his “doubts” on:

    Ukraine’s new acting government is not legitimate, Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev has said. “If people crossing Kiev in black masks and Kalashnikov rifles are considered a government, it will be difficult for us to work with such a government,” the prime minister said.

    “Some of our foreign, western partners think otherwise, considering them to be legitimate authorities. I do not know which constitution, which laws, they were reading, but it seems to me it is an aberration of perception when something that is essentially the result of a mutiny is called legitimate.”

    He also called the legitimacy of many of Ukraine’s governing bodies “doubtful”, adding: “There is no one to deal with there [in Ukraine]; masked and armed people are no partners for dialogue.”

    So a Kremlinoid is calling the members of parliament in Ukraine “people in black masks”?

    And you guys are really attributing some credence to this crap?

    The members of parliament were elected, and there is a mechanism to act in the absence of a president.

    If you want to see a video of the votes in parliament, I’ll provide the links.

    But please, please, don’t swallow Kremlinoid krappola issued by the Rashan Sopranos.

    Comment by elmer — February 24, 2014 @ 9:02 pm

  9. Don’t worry elmer, I’m on your side. We all know that this will be politicized by Russia. Ukraine needs to anticipate the traps and expect these challenges. I wish you all the best.

    Comment by Howard Roark — February 24, 2014 @ 10:10 pm

  10. @elmer. Not me too. Just saying that I am pretty sure strict legalities were not followed. In revolutions, they never are. But this is a case where the end justifies the means. And I am definitely not buying into the Medvedev/Putin crap. Never fear.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — February 24, 2014 @ 10:17 pm

  11. understood, thanks.

    prior to Yanukonvikt’s disappearance, Yanukonvikt, 3 opposition leaders, and the foreign ministers of Poland, Germany and France signed an agreement, with the Russian foreign minister not signing.

    Here it is, from Feb 21 2014

    At the same time, Yanukonvikt was already draining his palaces of a bunch of stuff in big trucks.

    He then disappeared.

    In effect, he resigned.

    Parliament then implemented the items in the agreement, with votes over 300 votes, as high as 386, out of 450 seats.

    To change the constitution, back to 2004, required 300 votes – which was one of the points in the agreement, and the number of votes easily exceeded that.

    There were overwhelming votes to stop the shooting, to change the speaker, etc., in each case well over the 226 majority required, except, of course, for changing the constitution.

    As I said, there is noone who is questioning the legitimacy of the current government or its actions – except for the Kremlinoid mafia.

    Savik Shuster finally reappeared last Friday, Feb 21, this time on Channel 5 – Peter Poroshenko’s channel, the chocolate king, whose Roshen chocolates were banned in the Rashan Federation.

    Comment by elmer — February 24, 2014 @ 10:42 pm

  12. couple things that I forgot

    Yanukonvikt sent his Airbus to the United Arab Emirates, but he wasn’t on it – many people tracked it in real time, including me

    One of the things that Savik Shuster does no his show is to take instant polls.

    84% of the people thought that Yanukonvikt ought to resign voluntarily. People were horrified by what the bastard did – it was unthinkable that in order to save his golden bidet he ordered snipers to shoot civilians, with help from Rooshan personnel, whose expenses were paid by Ukraine.

    Comment by elmer — February 24, 2014 @ 10:56 pm

  13. Everything you say professor is true, especially about the situation changing at the drop of a hat. The Russian media, the Russian authorities, and Crimea are absolutely rabid. In Kerch and Crimea they are raising Russian flags, and supporters of the Ukrainian state are being physically assaulted. RFERL had a report of a guy in Moscow being dragged into police headquarters because he was wearing a blue and yellow cap (It also said “New York” on it).
    As for Ukraine proper, and the east of the country, I have hope.Yesterday I saw reports of the mayors of Kharkiv and Donetske each holding press conferences. There was lots of speculation about the Kharkiv mayor as he had left the country the same time as the rabid russian governer of Kharkiv oblast and Yanuk appointee, Dobkin. But the mayor was back, and saying that the city administration recognized the new power, and denied, in no uncertain terms, any involvement with sepratists or even federalists. Virtually the same statement, with equally vigourous insistance, was made by the mayor of Donetske.
    Just before the fall, there was a group, led by Dobkin, that was trying to organize an armed resistence to Maidan. Yesterday, on its facebook page, that group stated, in the absence of Dobkin & Yanuk, that it was formally disbanding.
    The pictures of Yanuk’s and Pshonka’s ridiculous mansions has gone a long way to temper the Russian chauvinism being ginned up by the kremlin. Average people in the east are finding it hard to justify their opposition to the overthrow. The media across Ukraine is now open, and though not all pro revolution, there is at least clear access in MSM in the east to what is going on re: the new government are not walking around saying “Heil Bandera” and trying to organize the state’s last resources to spark up the gas chambers.
    Finally, excepting Crimea, even in Donetske and Luhanske the majority of people consider themselves Ukrainian, even if the don’t speak it, or want to speak it. They know their grandparents and parents spoke it, and they also know they do not want to be ruled from Moscow.

    It will be tough slouging ahead to be sure. Moscow’s resources are great, and they have a good fifth column in Ukraine. But everyone, west or east knows elections are coming. The east knows that the POR is corrupt but has not been outlawed. What the provisional gov’t needs now is just a little time to let the emotions of the easterners settle a bit, and to start thinking dispassionately. Exposing the excesses of the old regime is a good start.

    As to the legitimacy of the provisional government, I think the Advisor for International Affairs to the President of Poland, Roman Kuzhniar, said it best: “Poland considers President Yanukovych as an ex-president. This is a revolution. There is nothing to talk about regarding constitutional procedures,” and “it was a coup that was provoked by the authorities, and therefore it was justified.”

    Comment by Gordon — February 24, 2014 @ 11:25 pm

  14. If the Russian government is such a stickler for strict legitimacy, I am sure it will go all the way to the end and will dismantle itself and its state, the Russian Federation, form the Provisional Government and hand all the power to the Constitutient Assembly. You know, that one, the last truly legitimate institute of power in Russia that was dispersed by brute force in 1918.

    Comment by LL — February 25, 2014 @ 5:17 am

  15. Looks like a return to normal service in Russia with mass arrests of opposition members.

    Vladislav/Ostap must be so proud….

    Comment by Andrew — February 25, 2014 @ 7:42 am

  16. @Gordon – yes, very good summary, Kernes was mouthing words about cooperating the government, but he also said there is a time for everything. Oplot may be nominally not active now, but remember the sovok motto: “think one thing, say another, do a third”

    @Andrew – standard operating procedure for the Kremlinoids is to increase repression massively whenever they see something in the “near abroad” that they don’t like – you know, so people within the Rasha Federation don’t get the big idea that they ought to have democracy rather than a Kremlinoid Sopranos mafia

    Comment by elmer — February 25, 2014 @ 8:21 am

  17. Here is an analytical piece showing some of the Maidan provocateurs, armed with the AK machine guns, who attacked the Ukrainian soldiers and started the bloodbath that cost Ukraine hundreds of lives and the remnants of its democracy:

    And here are some videos of various Maidan demonstrators from West Ukraine chanting the new slogan sweeping West Ukraine: “Москалей – на ножи!”, “Knife Moskals (Russians) to death!”

    And here are these people, who bussed all the way to the Russian-populated city of Odessa, demanding that the majority of Odessa’s citizens be knifed to death:

    Speaking of provocateurs….

    Comment by vladislav — February 26, 2014 @ 4:08 am

  18. The videos that your TV news will never show you…

    Comment by vladislav — February 26, 2014 @ 4:09 am

  19. Ivan,

    > Not the mass murderers from the Kremlin, that’s for sure:

    I hope you do realize that this is the story of the 1st Chechen war, which was conducted by Yeltsin and not Putin.

    Comment by vladislav — February 26, 2014 @ 7:52 am

  20. Putin used far more indiscriminate tactics in his invasion of Chechnya.

    Filtration (extermination) camps, mass bombing of towns and villages. Deliberate targeting of civilians.
    Kidnapping, rape, and murder of young women was rewarded with the ‘Hero of the Russian Federation’ medal.

    Comment by Andrew — February 26, 2014 @ 9:29 am

  21. Then there are all those pension funds of ordinary American workers which own stocks in defence contractors, but never mind, let the people suffer.

    Funny thing is the ‘peace dividend’ will probably be another nail in the coffin of any economic recovery.

    Comment by Andrew — February 26, 2014 @ 9:56 am

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